It has been 157 years since President Abraham Lincoln issued the official proclamation designating the 4th Thursday of November to be a day of Thanks and Praise to “our beneficent Father who dwelleth in the Heavens.” History tells us that Lincoln had already made several proclamations in previous years, closing the offices of the government to celebrate a day of Thanksgiving. Exactly 74 years before Lincoln’s official proclamation, George Washington had issued a similar call for the nation to pause and give thanks to God.
In 1863, America was a nation torn in half by a Civil War. The war between states would pit brother against brother and divide families and friendships permanently. War injuries were horrific, and death and the potential death of a nation was on the minds of people. Lincoln was quick to acknowledge in his proclamation that despite such horrors within our borders, God had preserved peace in the rest of the world. America’s enemies did not attack her while she was so vulnerable within.
Lincoln’s original proclamation acknowledged God’s preservation of life as well as an unexpected growth in the population, even with so much bloodshed and death on the battlefields. Lincoln spoke of fruitful fields and healthy skies. He wrote of strength and industry and the growth of crops and other natural resources, all which he declared were, “gracious gifts of the Most High God.” Lincoln acknowledged these gifts to be from God’s grace and admitted that God would be just in dealing with the sins of His people in anger. Yet thankfully God remembered His mercy. And because of God’s blessings and His mercy, it was good, right, and proper that the entire nation, in one united voice, acknowledge and thank God for His gifts.
In recent years, I have made a point of reading Lincoln’s Thanksgiving proclamation to prepare myself for the holiday (If you’d like to read it in its entirety, I’ve included it below). This year however, his words rang a bit differently than previous years. They seemed more fitting as we find ourselves once again, a nation divided. There is turmoil, unrest, and even uncertainty. The overreaching regulations, fears, and idolatry connected to the pandemic will certainly affect the manner in which many people choose to celebrate this day of thanks and praise. In fact, some may not celebrate it at all.
In the communion liturgy of the church, we hear these words week in and week out, “It is truly good, right, and salutary, that we should at all times, and in all places, give thanks unto You O Lord, Holy Father, Almighty, Everlasting God..”
A proclamation and call to give thanks and praise to God, always. No matter what comes our way, the good or the bad. Whether blessings are overflowing and abundant or seeming to be lacking, God’s people always have reason to thank and praise Him.
As good as Lincoln’s Thanksgiving proclamation was, he misses out on the reason why we can always give thanks to God and praise Him. He writes of grace and mercy, but doesn’t point to the One who is grace and mercy made flesh and manifested among us. A bit like that beloved hymn, “Amazing Grace,” there is a lot of mention of grace and mercy, but no mention of how God shows that grace and mercy, in the person of Jesus Christ, or the forgiveness, life and salvation that is found in Him. In essence, it’s missing the Gospel!
The reality for us is, that it isn’t because of good health or wellness that we should thank and praise God, though we certainly should thank and praise God for those. It isn’t because of peace or unity, though we certainly should thank God for those and pray for preservation of both. And just because there is conflict, disease, unrest, and uncertainty in the world, does not give us permission to stop thanking or praising God.
Regardless of what we may endure in this life, the love that God has for us in His Son Jesus Christ, will never fail. Nothing will separate us from that love, or God’s grace and mercy! In fact, we can’t even out-sin what God has for us in Jesus. And so, it is good, right, and proper, to thank God at all times, because not only does He provide all that we need to support this body and life, but if those things were not enough, He also gave us Himself. Paying the price for our sins and our failures. Dying and rising so that our greatest fears – death and the grave – would have no actual power over us. Bringing us life, when we deserve condemnation.
We thank and praise God at all times and in all places, because of what He has done for us in Jesus. So this Thanksgiving, whatever it might look like for you, whether you are gathered with family and friends or isolated and in quarantine, praise and thank God for the salvation He has delivered for you. Thank Him, that even though we are experiencing a pandemic, God has been merciful and Covid-19 has a high survival rate. If you find yourselves locked down because of your government, thank God that even though government is often misguided and overreaching, God cares enough to provide authorities over us and chooses to work through them all (whether we like them or not) to accomplish His purposes (many of which we will not realize until after the fact).
With all the things that we might consider complaining about this Thanksgiving, I challenge you to ponder how you might find a way to thank God and praise Him for His blessings, even in the midst of those negatives. The greatest blessing we have, is the salvation He delivers to us in Jesus, and that alone, gives us reason to thank and praise God, today, tomorrow, and always. For God does indeed remember His mercy for you.